Sending Troops to the Border Will Cause More Migrant Deaths
(April 11, 2018) Late Friday night, Defense Secretary James Mattis approved the deployment of up to 4,000 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. The order, which came after President Donald Trump called for an increase in troops in response to a caravan of refugees making their way north to seek asylum, is not the first time the National Guard has been sent to the border (President George W. Bush sent 6,000 troops in 2006 and President Barack Obama sent 1,200 in 2011). However, many people living in the borderlands believe the action escalates an already-weaponized war zone, and at a time when the United States is seeing the lowest border crossing numbers since 1971.
The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) defines border militarization as “the systematic intensification of the border’s security apparatus, transforming the area from a transnational frontier to a zone of permanent vigilance, enforcement, and violence.”
The NNIRR further states that “the outcome of border militarization has not been to deter migration, but instead to create more vulnerability.”
Sixty miles south of my home in Tucson, at the U.S.-Mexico border, a crude steel wall cleaves the town of Nogales in half. Once a single town, relatives now stretch their arms through slits in the wall to hold hands. North of the border, Interstate 19 runs through a scrubby desert, past dusty Arizona ranch towns and gated retirement communities, paralleling the green line that marks the Santa Cruz River. The desert stretches out as far as you can see: thousands of acres of rocky mountain ranges, remote wilderness areas, First Nations land, and cattle ranches.
In 1994, the U.S. Border Patrol began a new strategy called Prevention Through Deterrence. Urban areas from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California, were outfitted with more Border Patrol agents and military-style equipment, including cameras and walls. As a result, it was no longer possible for migrants to cross the border in urban areas. They now had to traverse remote stretches of desert by foot.
In the Sonoran Desert, summer temperatures can climb up to 120 degrees near some of the most commonly used crossing routes. Monsoon storms turn bone-dry arroyos into dangerous flash floods. In winter, below-freezing nighttime temperatures can induce hypothermia. There is little shade and the only water might be found inside the belly of a cactus, or an algae-filled cattle tank. There are rocks to turn ankles, rattlesnakes, and miles upon miles of spiny cacti.
In the last two decades, more than 7,000 bodies of migrants have been found in the Arizona desert, most having died of exposure or dehydration. Thousands more men, women, and children have disappeared. In 2015 alone, more than 1,200 missing persons cases were opened by the human rights organization La Coalición de Derechos Humanos, in response to people looking for loved ones who went missing on the journey through the desert.
A report co-authored by La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and humanitarian group No More Deaths reads, “The region has been transformed into a vast graveyard of the missing.”
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